The UI/UX Designer: So Many Hats

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This post is a blind response to the article What do companies mean when they say they want a UI/UX Designer? written by Sarah Harrison.

I come from a family of teachers.  Despite the fact that I didn’t follow in their footsteps, my parents have been endlessly supportive of my career.  Supportive, and a little confused. You see, one clear difference between the teaching profession and the UX profession is that when you say “I am a teacher” everyone knows exactly what you mean.  “I am a UX Architect” is not always met with the same response.  This confusion is something that I’ve encountered throughout my time in the industry, and it doesn’t just come from friends and family.  The subtleties of the UX field can be just as muddy to clients, coworkers, and hiring managers as they are to people in the outside world.

The title UI/UX Designer is, in my opinion, similar to a Lawyer/Nurse or a Pilot/Fireman.  It’s two jobs in one.  Are there people out there who can do both?  Absolutely! Do both well? I’ve had the pleasure of working with them.  Do both well, at the same time? Now you’re asking a lot. But still, I see this title all over job search sites, and I’ve encountered it at several different companies.  Why is it so prevalent? I have a few ideas:

1. Many UX Professionals started out in a related field

In the grand scheme of things, User Experience is still a very young industry.  Many UX professionals came into the field organically.  They were working in a related job, saw a need, and developed the skillset to address it.  When positions are created this way, there usually isn’t a clear cut definition of the role, and there’s also an expectation that the person will handle these new responsibilities in addition to their original ones.

2. User Experience departments (and budgets) are small

User Experience can easily be divided into a handful (if not more) of specialties; UX Architect, User Research Analyst, UI Designer, Content Strategist.  At the same time, many UX departments have less than a handful of employees.  Blended roles like UX Designer are the easiest way to fill 5 positions with 2 people.  This is actually a great strategy to begin building a UX practice within a company.  It’s important to remember though, that it is a growth strategy.  As the department matures, your UX generalists should be allowed to shift into specialized roles that support each other.

3. The people defining the roles are separated from the people doing the work

Often UX roles are defined by Human Resources, or recruiting firms.  Since these people aren’t directly involved in the work, it can be easy to overlook the subtle differences in job titles, and what they mean. The title of UI/UX Designer is very common, so it’s easy to understand how someone tasked with creating a UX job description could research industry roles, and land on this as the title.

Luckily, a critical skill for many UX specialties is the ability to look at a set of requirements and sort out the difference between what is being asked for, and what is really needed.  We use this skill not only when doing our jobs, but also when finding them.  I advocate for simplicity and consistency in design, and in life.  I would love to see more industry standard job titles and descriptions.  However until that happens, I do think that the UX community is particularly well equipped to look past the titles and identify the work that needs to be done.